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The Traditions were recorded in the Time of Prophet Himself


The first written compilations of Traditions were made during the caliphate of ‘Umar ibn ‘Ad al-‘Aziz, at the beginning of the second century of Hijra. However, though all the Traditions that would be collected and arranged in book form were in oral circulation, most of them had already been recorded in individual collections either by some Companions or their students.

The overwhelming majority of the ‘Arabs were unlettered. When the Qur’an began to be revealed, a desire to learn to read and write was aroused in them. The Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, encouraged them to do so; it is worthy of note that among the prisoners of war taken at the Battle of Badr those who were literate were released after each taught ten Muslims how to read and write.115 It should also be kept in mind that the first Revelation was the command:

Read, in the name of your Lord, Who has created. He created man from a clot suspended (on the wall of the womb). Read, Your Lord is the All-Munificent, Who taught (to write) with the pen. He taught man what he had not known (al-‘Alaq, 96.1-5).

Despite the importance attached to knowledge and learning, in the early period of his Messengership, the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, did not allow his Companions to write down what they heard from him. For example, as related in the Sahih al-Muslim, he said: Do not write anything belonging to me. Whoever has written something received from me outside the Qur’an let him destroy it.116 This was because it was quite possible that the Companions might confuse the Qur’anic verses with the sayings of the Prophet. The Qur’anic Revelations were coming and recorded on sheets or on fragments of leather or wood. Since the Qur’an was continuing to be revealed, it had not yet been arranged as a complete book. Therefore, God’s Messenger did not want, as a necessary precaution, his sayings to be written down beside the Qur’anic verses. He feared lest people should be unable to distinguish the Qur’an from his sayings and ultimately might go to perdition, as is explicit in the following hadith.

Abu Hurayra narrates:

God’s Messenger once came near us while some friends were writing down what they had heard from him. He asked what they were writing. ‘We are writing what we heard from you’, they answered. The Messenger warned: ‘Do you know that the communities preceding you went astray because they wrote down from others beside the Book of God.’117

Another point worthy of note in this connection is that, as most of the Qur’anic Revelations came on different occasions and there are in it concise and sometimes – seemingly – ambiguous verses besides the clear and detailed ones, and the allegorical verses beside the explicit and incontrovertible ones, and also, during an evolving movement leading to the establishment of a purely Islamic community, some commandments came to replace earlier ones, so too God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, spoke on different particular occasions, and to persons of different temperaments and levels of understanding, and also to new converts as well as to those who had accepted Islam long before. For example, when a new convert asked him what the best deed was, he answered that it was belief and performing the five prescribed prayers. When the same question was asked when Jihad had priority, the answer came that the best deed was Jihad in the way of God. Further, since his Message included all times and peoples until the Last Day, he frequently resorted to allegories, similes, parables and metaphors. All these factors, besides many others, might have led the Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, to forbid certain individuals from writing down his sayings. If everyone had written down or narrated whatever he heard from or witnessed in God’s Messenger, without being able to distinguish between the real and metaphorical, between the concrete and the abstract, between the abrogated and the abrogating, between the general and the particular and occasional, it would have caused great confusions and misunderstandings. It is because of the same fear and concern that ‘Umar, may God be pleased with him, sometimes warned people against careless narration of the Prophetic Traditions.

However, there are many Traditions which state that God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, did allow his Companions to write down his sayings. A time came when the Companions attained the intellectual and spiritual maturity to distinguish between the Qur’an and Hadith, giving to each the attention and importance necessary and particular to each, and to understand the circumstances relevant to each Tradition, and God’s Messenger then encouraged them to write down his Traditions.

Abu Hurayra relates:

Among the Companions there is no one, except ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Amr ibn al-‘As, having as many Traditions as I do. I did not use to write down the sayings of the Prophet, but ‘Abdullah did.118

As reported from himself, ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Amr used to write down whatever he heard from God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings. Some people said to him: ‘You are writing down everything coming from the mouth of God’s Messenger. The Messenger is a human being. There are times when he is angered and times when he is pleased.’ ‘Abdullah referred the matter to God’s Messenger, who answered him, pointing to his mouth: Write down, for, I swear by Him in Whose hand is my life, nothing comes out from this except truth.119

Whether angered or pleased, God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, never spoke on his own; out of personal caprice or whim. Whatever he spoke, is a Revelation [explicit or implicit] revealed (al-Najm, 53.4). Every word and action of his has some bearing on the religion of Islam. Therefore, his words and actions had to be recorded. The Companions did this holy task, either by committing them to memory or writing them down. There is not, in the world, another person, next to God’s Messenger, whose life is known down to its minutest details, and has been handed down through generations so accurately. This is why we should feel indebted to the Companions and the two or three generations after them, including the great Traditionists especially, who recorded his words and actions and transmitted them to future generations.

A man came to God’s Messenger and complained about his memory, saying: ‘O Messenger of God: We hear many things from you. But most of them slip our minds because we cannot memorize them’. God’s Messenger replied: Ask your right hand for help.120 The Messenger meant that he should write down what he heard.

When Rafi‘ ibn Khadij asked God’s Messenger whether they could write what they heard from him, the answer came: Write, no harm!121

As recorded in the Sunan of al-Darimi, God’s Messenger advised: Record knowledge by writing.122

During the conquest of Makka, God’s Messenger gave a sermon. A man from the Yemen, named Abu Shah, stood up and said: ‘O God’s Messenger! Please write down these [words] for me!’ The Messenger ordered: Write down for Abu Shah!123

‘Ali, the fourth Caliph, carried, attached to his sword, a sheet in which were written the commandments about the blood money to compensate for injuries and the sanctification of Madina and some other matters.124 Ibn ‘Abbas left behind a camel-load of books, which mostly contain what he had heard from God’s Messenger and other Companions.125 God’s Messenger sent a letter to ‘Amr ibn Hazm, which contained commandments about the blood money for murders and injuries and the law of retaliation.126 This letter was handed down to his great grandson, Abu Bakr ibn Muhammad. Likewise, a scroll transferred from God’s Messenger to Abu Rafi‘ was handed down to Abu Bakr ibn ‘Abd Al-Rahman ibn Harith, belonging to the first generation after the Companions.127 One of the leading scholars of this generation, Mujahid ibn Jabr, saw the compilation of ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Amr, called al-Sahifa al-Sadiqa. Ibn al-Athir, a renowned historian, writes that this compilation contained around a thousand Traditions. Half of them were recorded in authentic books of Tradition, with the chain, from ‘Amr ibn Shu‘ayb, from his father, from his grandfather respectively.

Like Ibn ‘Abbas, Jabir ibn ‘Abdullah al-Ansari left behind a voluminous book containing the sayings he had heard from God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings.128 Al-Sahifa al-Sahiha is another of the important sources of Hadith from that earliest period. Hammam ibn Munabbih, the compiler of that Sahifa, followed Abu Hurayra whenever he went and wrote down the Prophetic sayings reported by him. This compilation has recently been published by Muhammad Hamidullah, and proven, through carbon dating, to belong to the period thirteen centuries ago. Almost all of the Traditions contained in it can be found either in Musnad ibn Hanbal or the Sahihayn, Bukhari and Muslim.

After these first simple compilations, the Caliph ‘Umar ibn ‘Abd al-‘Aziz, who reigned between 99-101 after the Hijra, decided all the authentic Traditions whether in oral or written circulation, should be compiled into books systematically. He ordered the governor of Madina, Abu Bakr ibn Muhammad ibn ‘Amr ibn Hazm, to supervise this task. Muhammad ibn Shihab al-Zuhri, renowned for his profound learning and very keen intelligence, undertook the task, and acquired the honor of being the first ‘official’ compiler of Traditions.129

This movement of ‘official’ compilation launched by ‘Umar ibn ‘Abd al-‘Aziz did not become restricted to the activities of Imam ibn Shihab al-Zuhri in Madina. The same task was performed by ‘Abd al-Malik ibn ‘Abd al-‘Aziz ibn Jurayj in Makka. Sa‘id ibn Abi ‘Aruba in Iraq, Awza’i in Damascus, Zayd ibn Qudama and Sufyan al-Thawri in Kufa, Hammad ibn Salama in Basra and ‘Abdullah ibn al-Mubarak in Khorasan.

This period of official and systematic compilation was followed by the period of classification of the compiled Traditions, done by eminent Traditionists such as Abu Dawud al-Tayalisi, Musaddad ibn Musarhad, al-Humaydi and Ahmad ibn Hanbal, who brought out their Musnads, and also ‘Abd al-Razzaq ibn Hammam and others who formed their Musannafs. Ibn Abi Dhi’b and Imam Malik put the title of al-Muwatta’ to their books. Yahya ibn Sa‘id al-Qattan and Yahya ibn Sa‘id al-Ansari should also be mentioned among the pre-eminent figures of this period.

Then came the period of the greatest Traditionists of the history of Islam. The authors of the six world-famous books of Tradition, namely Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Dawud, Nasa’i, Tirmidhi, and Ibn Maja, appeared in this period. These most celebrated persons and some others almost as illustrious as them like Yahya ibn Ma‘in, included in their collections the most authentic Traditions which they judged according to the most strict criteria. For example, in order to receive a hadith, Imam Bukhari went to a man who was renowned for his reliability and piety. Nevertheless, he saw him hold his hat towards his animal as if there were something in it to eat, to entice it towards himself. Bukhari asked the man whether there was something in the hat to feed the animal. The man said, ‘No!’. Bukhari left the man without taking the hadith from him, because, in his view, one who could deceive an animal in this way might also deceive people. Such were the exacting criteria applied when judging the reliability of narrators.

In short, the Prophetic Traditions were either written down or memorized during the time of the Companions. When the first Islamic century ended, they had a wide circulation, in oral or written form. Upon the order of ‘Umar ibn ‘Abd al-‘Aziz, eminent scholars undertook the first ‘official’ compilation of ahadith in different centers. The authentic Traditions were distinguished from fabricated ones with utmost care and according to most sensitive criteria. Then came the period of classification. It was followed by the most systematic and accurate compilation or collection accomplished by the pre-eminent and most famous figures of the science of Hadith. Later, new authentic books of Traditions were added to them. Also, the illustrious critics of Tradition such as Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani, Ibn Abd al-Barr, Dhahabi, Ibn al-Jawzi and Zayn al-Din al-Iraqi reviewed all the Traditions and brought about large compendiums about narrators.

The Sunna of the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, has thus been handed down to us through most reliable channels. No one has the right to cast doubt upon this second source of Islam, which approaches the Qur’an in purity, authenticity and un-questionability.


115. I. Sa‘d, Tabaqat, 2.22.

116. Muslim, “Zuhd,” 72; Darimi, “Muqaddima,” 42.

117. Khatib al-Baghdadi, Taqyid al-‘Ilm, 34.

118. Bukhari, “‘Ilm,” 39.

119. Abu Dawud, “‘Ilm,” 3; I. Hanbal, 2.162; Darimi, “Muqaddima,” 43.

120. Tirmidhi, “‘Ilm,” 12.

121. Hindi, Kanz al-‘Ummal, 10.232.

122. Darimi, “Muqaddima,” 43.

123. Abu Dawud, “‘Ilm,” 3; Tirmidhi, “‘Ilm,” 12.

124. Bukhari, “‘Ilm,” 39; I. Hanbal, 1.100.

125. M. ‘Ajjaj al-Khatib, op. cit. 352.

126. Darimi, “Diyat,” 12.

127. Khatib al-Baghdadi, “al-Kifaya,” 330.

128. I. Sa‘d, 7.2; Khatib al-Baghdadi, ibid., 354.

129. Bukhari, “‘Ilm,” 34.


This article has been adapted from Risale- i Nur Collection.